The new season of American Crime Story premiered this week, centering on the affair with former President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Not only does it so far document what happens to politics when a civilian tries to attack, but it also exemplifies how little progress we’ve made with sexual harassment and abuse of power since Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.
When the affair was originally leaked to the public, the overall perception of Lewinsky was low. Her reputation did not recover for many years afterward. Meanwhile studies show that even getting impeached from the White House barely dented public support for President Clinton.
Throughout most cases of sexual harassment, assault or even full-blown affairs, a recurring pattern seems to be the victim being scorned publicly. A 2018 study concluded that Americans were more scared about men getting away with assault and harassment in the workplace than men being fired prematurely.
Whether it’s just not being believed by authorities or being blamed for whatever incident occurred, it always seems to be the victim apologizing and healing while the perpetrator (male or female) gets off with a slap on the wrist. And although the affair between President Clinton and Lewinsky was consensual, you definitely have to acknowledge that the power dynamics between the two were not equal.
The show also explores the lawsuit of Paula Jones, a woman who sued Clinton in 1994 for sexual harassment and assault. In 1991, Jones claimed that then-Governor Clinton invited Jones up to his hotel room and asked her to perform oral sex on him. Clinton later settled with Jones out-of-court, but this lawsuit definitely took a toll on the President’s political career.
The episode featured a scene in which Jones and her husband spoke at a press conference to announce what President Clinton had done and to publicly ask him for an apology. After refusing to share intimate details of their encounter to the press, they then pester her with questions such as, “What were you expecting if you were invited to a hotel room?” and “Did it actually happen if you can’t tell us what he did?” It was a prime example of victim blaming, and it’s still as prevalent today as it was decades ago.
While watching the series, I saw that the same patterns by politicians have not changed, but the reaction of the public has greatly. Recent examples include Gov. Cuomo’s resignation after numerous sexual harassment allegations. Cuomo’s case is very similar to Clinton’s due to their continuous denial of such allegations and lack of apology to the alleged victims.
Despite being similar in nature and both being forced to resign, Cuomo and Clinton’s cases differ greatly in public response. Clinton’s impeachment may not have had as big of an impact on his public appearance, but Cuomo chose to resign due to the reports leaking to the public and their opinion of him.
The #MeToo movement has also changed how we look at sexual harassment and assault. What once was such a taboo and embarrassing topic to discuss is now openly talked about among both men and women. It’s definitely helped victims be open about their experiences. This includes Monica Lewinsky herself, who serves as a producer on the Impeachment series and is proud to share her side of the story with the world.
The series may show a lack of progress with politicians’ actions and their abuse of power, however, the consequences against them have improved slightly. We still need to continue to carry on this conversation so we can make more efforts to help prevent any harassment or assault from taking place, especially in the world of politics.
Hannah Campbell is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Hannah by tweeting her at @hannahcmpbell.